It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of some of the issues surrounding child abuse in the young pre-school child. Although many young children are taught by the caregivers not to let anyone touch their private parts, we know that children are too small to make it stop in reality, and they do not always understand that they need to tell if someone does do this. We must remeber that many perpetrators of sexual abuse, have relationships with the children and may do special things with the child to make them feel loved. Further, the abuse may not be frightening and painful, and may in fact have pleasurable aspects, and the children are then confused and do not tell.
So what are some of the things to look out for: In this age group the most common symptoms of sexual abuse are nightmares and sexually acting out behaviour which may include other children. If the child’s behaviour changes and becomes aggresive, withdrawn or moody with no other reasonable explanation, this may be further indicative of stress that the child is experiencing. Some children of this age group may also make spontaneous disclosure of abuse, and these need to be taken seriously and not minimised as fantasy or make belive.
It is very important that, should a parent find out about any sexual abuse of the child that they react in a calm manner and not frighten the child by being hysterical or shouting and screaming. The level of the trauma that the child experiences relates directly to the response of the parents on hearing on the abuse. It is useful for the parent to say something like: “Thank you, I am so glad you told me. You are so brave to tell me. I am so sorry that this happened to you. I belive you and together we will sort out this problem.”
The parent should then contact the police (go the police station in the area in which the alleged incident occured, without the child, and give a statement). Alternatively the parents can also contact their local social work agency. Parents, as are all and any citizens, are required by law to report any allegations or suspicions of abuse to the police or social work organisation.
Should the parent suspect some sexual abuse, but the child has not made a disclosure, it is useful to take the child to a social worker or psychologist who can do an assesssment to ascertain whether sexual abuse has indeed taken place. This person will then guide the parent as to the process to follow if further procedures are necisitated.
If it is established that a child has been sexually abused, it is important for the child to receive some play therapy to help them deal with the emotional impact of the abuse.